SYN: When You Gonna Learn?

Part Fourteen

      Dating Kudou really was like one giant, unending game. It took three weeks for things to settle into some sort of routine, not that "routine" was an appropriate word for lives like theirs. They lived separately with their primary focus on their own teams and agendas, but twice a week, then three times, then four, they somehow found each other for drinks or dinner or another of Kudou's harebrained notions of what a date was. They argued and insulted and pushed and kissed and fucked and by the time the fourth week went over, Schuldich didn't really remember that he'd ever fought any of it.

      At about the same time, Schuldich had to admit that Kudou was interesting company. The man was almost impossible to rile and the perfect opponent in a game like this. He was a hell of a lot better at this game than Schuldich really understood and he seemed to be eternally perched one step ahead of Schuldich. For two and a half weeks Schuldich was irritated when he realized he'd been had- like with the rainstorm at the game- and then he gave up annoyance in favor of being amused by it all. By the time they'd been together for four weeks, Kudou was as much a part of Schuldich's life as Schwarz was, and Schuldich was okay with that.

      Things with Schwarz were better than they'd been in a while, too. Schuldich had something keeping him busy and entertained, and an entertained telepath was the best thing anyone could ask for. If he was spending all of his energy trying to keep up with and surpass Kudou, he had fewer problems sitting still for paperwork and meetings. Crawford was being extremely lenient with what Schuldich did with his free time and Schuldich was mature enough- rather, loyal to Crawford enough- that he never let it interfere with Schwarz's work.

      Things with Nagi were finally back to what they were supposed to be- almost. The two had decided by some unspoken rule to never again say Kudou's name out loud, even if the team was debating the possibilities of Weiss's interference in their work. Schuldich liked it far better when he and Nagi were actually getting along, since Nagi was the most amusing and tolerable of his three teammates, and Nagi was making serious efforts to keep that peace. There was still something a little hollow in Nagi's eyes when Schuldich left to see Kudou or when Schuldich took longer than usual to come back, but the telekinetic never said anything.

      Schuldich didn't really like that hollow look. He didn't regret taking Kudou away from Nagi, but that didn't mean he liked getting looked at like that. It took him weeks to realize he was subconsciously reacting to it, spending more time around the telekinetic both on and off the job, and he didn't really notice until Crawford pointed it out. The precognitive was putting it in context as being convenient for upcoming pair work, but it still took Schuldich a minute to realize that things were different now. He'd sort of assumed he and Nagi had always been this way, but then the look on Nagi's face reminded him that it was a recent thing. He found it almost curious, since it was obvious that he and Nagi worked well together, but he decided not to ask.



      He didn't know. He didn't really have answers. What he did have was a job to do, so he listened to what Crawford had to say and then went in search of his youngest teammate. Nagi's door was shut, but the only shut door Schuldich respected was that to Crawford's office and that was only because Farfarello had a tendency to lock him out of it. He didn't bother to knock, just twisted the knob and pushed it open. His mouth was open on words that were immediately forgotten.

      He'd heard the water running earlier as Nagi showered, but the telekinetic hadn't bothered to get dressed in the few hours since. Apparently he'd fallen asleep while drying off. Now he was curled up on his side in bed in the fetal position, only half-covered by his sheet. Scrunched up like that, he looked small, and that took serious effort on a Japanese bed. Schuldich went still in the doorway as he stared at his youngest teammate and blue eyes instinctively traced the line of bare, pale flesh.

      Nagi had a tendency to wear long sleeved shirts and long pants to help cover up the scars left behind from when he was a child. Schuldich had told him time and time again that the years were making them less visible, but in Nagi's mind they were still bleeding and fresh. Put there by his mother's hands, they were likely to haunt the kid until he died. Nagi felt things a little too intensely and this was one of the times it was going to bite him on the ass. Nagi had asked Schuldich once why people were destined to hate each other. Schuldich was the wrong one to ask such a thing, but Nagi had been too afraid to ask Crawford. Schuldich hadn't been able to understand such ridiculous sentimentality and he'd hoped his answer had convinced Nagi that feelings were a complete waste of time. He'd been proven wrong as soon as Nagi had met Tot.

      Angry words flickered through his mind as Schuldich pushed the door a little further open and eased inside. He'd forgotten about them, but now they seemed overly loud in his memories.

      'What the hell are you thinking, you midgety idiot? *Tot*? Have some fucking standards, at least!'

      'I just want to know what it's like,' was the subdued response. 'I just want to know what it's like to be special to someone.'

      ~Should have seen Kudou coming,~ he admitted to himself, a little grouchily. Too late now, but at least he'd fixed that problem somewhat. He sighed and raked his fingers through his hair.

      "Nagi," he said, wading his way through the mess to Nagi's bed. Nagi stirred at the sound of his name, even if the creak of the door hadn't been enough, and Schuldich stopped beside the bed to watch as he slowly woke up. Fingers curled against the sheet before Nagi dragged a hand towards his face. He scrubbed at his eyes and half-rolled onto his back to gaze blearily up at Schuldich.

      Schuldich showed him his watch. "We're out of here in half an hour," he said. "New job."

      "Mmmm," was the oh-so-intelligent response, and Nagi pushed his sheets aside to sit up. He stayed there on the edge for a bit, trying to reorient himself after such an oddly-timed nap. Schuldich waited, though he wasn't entirely sure why he was staying. His gaze tracked over Nagi's skin again. The last time he'd seen Nagi completely naked, the telekinetic had definitely been a child, albeit hardened by his parents' cruelty and his time on the streets. Now he looked completely different.

      "Stop staring at them," Nagi said, misinterpreting Schuldich's stare.

      "I told you I can't really see them anymore," Schuldich pointed out.

      "But you're looking for them."

      "Don't be so self-conscious," Schuldich said, and Nagi just slanted a hooded look up at him. The teenager stood up and Schuldich put a hand on top of his head to still him before he could step away. It earned him a confused frown that Schuldich ignored, and instead the telepath moved his hand back towards his own body to measure where Nagi came up against him. Huh. When had the boy- man?- gotten so tall? "I refuse to think that you're an adult yet," he said, partly in conclusion to this new revelation and partly for Nagi's benefit. "Not when you keep fritzing out on psychotic hormones."

      "What?" Nagi asked.

      "Drink some coffee before we leave, sluggish brain," Schuldich suggested.

      Nagi scowled at him and Schuldich just grinned. He left his teammate there to get dressed and headed back to the kitchen. Coffee sounded good and a glance at the clock said they had enough time to brew some and take it with them. He set it up to make enough for both of them and waited until his roommate emerged. Farfarello drifted in right on his heels and Schuldich wondered when he'd missed the notice that said today was a day for bumming around. The Irishman hadn't bothered to put on more than just his sleeping pants and Schuldich studied the younger man's bare chest with detached interest.

      Farfarello didn't miss the attention and Schuldich just shrugged. "Nagi's in a bad mood because I saw him naked," he announced.

      "And he's angry?" Farfarello asked, sounding bored.

      "Don't choose now to grow a sense of humor, Farfarello," Nagi grumbled.

      "Oh, don't whine," Schuldich suggested. "I love that Crawford fucked a personality into him." He considered that and looked over at Farfarello. "Though I guess you're the one fucking-"

      "I don't need to hear this," Nagi cut in. "The mental images are going to keep me up at night."

      "I don't need to hear that," Schuldich returned.

      Farfarello just offered Schuldich a creepy smile. Schuldich decided that meant the conversation was over and he grinned at Nagi. Nagi just tapped a finger against the side of his head in a silent declaration that Schuldich was mental. Schuldich ignored it. The two filled some travel mugs with the coffee and left Farfarello to rummage around in the fridge for lunch.

      Within a few minutes they were in the car and on the road. The wind filled the silence between them and they sipped their coffee in peace. They showed up at Morimoto's buildings as unexpected guests and the secretary wasn't happy to see them. They'd come dressed for real work, all in black because black hid blood better than anything else. Nagi's expression was pure stone to match Schuldich's ice. The lady looked nervously from them to the locked door behind her.

      "He's in a meeting right now," she said.

      "We'll wait," Schuldich assured her.

      "I'll let him know you're here," she started, reaching for the intercom. Nagi stopped her hand and Schuldich's smile widened enough to show his teeth.

      "We're fine, thank you."

      She was past nervous into looking scared now. Schuldich didn't blame her, but he didn't particularly care, either. He shifted his gaze past her to the door, then slid it up the polished wood to the clock hanging overhead. Crawford's instructions had been clear: they were not to go inside until it was thirteen til the hour. He watched the second hand move in a smooth path around and around the clock. As it passed the eleven on its last necessary round, he stepped forward.


      Locks meant nothing to a telekinetic. It unlatched with just the smallest of clicks and they were striding through the door side by side the moment the second hand hit twelve. Morimoto was just hanging up from a fatal phone call with Takayama that shattered their attempts at an allegiance. All activity froze in the room at the sudden appearance of Schwarz's two.

      Schuldich propped his hand on his hip and smiled back at them, a vision of death in orange and black. "Takayama expresses his sincerest regrets that things didn't work out between you," he said.

      They dove for guns, dove for shelter, panicked minds immediately realizing what was going on. Nagi didn't let them get very far. Those around Morimoto were shredding into pieces in clockwise order even as the door was still swinging shut behind them. The secretary was screaming for help out in the hallway. Schuldich tuned her out and strode through the blood and flesh that was splashing up around him, going straight for Morimoto. One light jump brought him up onto the desk and he stepped off the other side, following the criminal in his panicked retreat. Morimoto hit the wall first and finally managed to draw his gun free, but Schuldich was already there.

      Fingers clenched shut around Morimoto's wrist and he slammed the man's hand back against the wall. He crushed the corrupt businessman up against the wall with his body and the weight of his vicious smile. The look in Morimoto's stare was horrified and panicked and Schuldich wanted to laugh at him. It wasn't the first time deals had fallen through and Schwarz had been hired by the stronger half to wipe out the weaker, uncooperative one. Every time, though, the weaker side wondered why they'd been sided against.

      "You're too weak," Schuldich said in response to that frantic, unspoken demand. It didn't matter that the words hadn't made it out into the air between them. His gift was in Morimoto's head, soaking up everything he could.

      /The computer,/ he demanded, and Morimoto's mind reacted instinctively to that shove. Numbers flashed against Schuldich's eyelids when he blinked, numbers and files and memories of the last things he'd been working on, the back-ups he'd been making and the evidence he'd slowly been collecting against Takayama just in case—

      "This world isn't for you," Schuldich told him. Morimoto's mouth opened, likely on an offer of some sort, an attempt to buy Schwarz back into his favor. Schuldich wasn't listening. He just flicked his fingers in a signal to Nagi, and the man's throat was crushed to pencil size in one vicious move. The force of it ruptured the skin and painted them both with blood, spraying out in all directions. Schuldich felt the warmth of it on his face and he just stepped back, releasing Morimoto to let his corpse collapse to the ground.

      He made his way back to the desk. The secretary was still screaming and Nagi wasn't bothering to silence her. He just killed the security guards that started their way and Schuldich tuned all of it out in favor of unlocking Morimoto's system. As soon as it was cleared, he switched places with Nagi and drew his gun. The telekinetic took over the technical part, downloading files and erasing what he needed. Schuldich killed everyone that moved into his line of sight.

      They were in and out in under half an hour, leaving thirty-nine dead bodies in their wake. The pair made it down to the car without anyone trying to stop them. Schuldich was reaching for the handle to his door when Nagi stopped him.

      "Here," Nagi said, offering tissues. "You're a mess."

      "You made me a mess," Schuldich pointed out. "I don't care."

      "You can't drive around the city looking like that," Nagi pointed out, reaching up to swab at Schuldich's face. Schuldich let him, though he wasn't entirely sure why. He stared Nagi down while Nagi mopped the blood off his cheeks and throat. The telekinetic didn't look at him when he was finished but tossed the tissues to one side.

      "I'm hungry," Schuldich decided. "We're going out."

      "It's Tuesday," Nagi reminded him. "You go out with other people for lunch on Tuesdays."

      "This is me going with you instead," Schuldich said. "I'll call whatsisface and tell him to kiss my ass."

      "Doesn't he anyway?" Nagi muttered.

      "Don't gross me out, kid."

      That earned him a hot look. "I'm not a kid," Nagi said, offended.

      "I know," Schuldich answered simply. "Why do you think I was looking at you earlier?"

      It was amazing just how quickly Nagi's expression could change. Schuldich had the distinct impression he'd just embarrassed the boy- or helped Nagi embarrass himself somehow. He offered Nagi a wide smirk and waggled a finger at the teen. "Little Nagi's all grown up," he taunted.

      "You weren't looking at that!!" Nagi shot back, flustered all of a sudden.

      "Nah," Schuldich admitted with a breezy shrug. "I did see it, though. Are we eating now or what?"

      Nagi did not look at all amused. "He's rubbing off on you and turning you into a degenerate."

      "Makes me sexier by the day. Car. Food."

      Nagi shook his head and went around to the other side of the car. Schuldich didn't feel like going all over the city in search of something good to eat, so he took them back to the apartment. They left the car in the parking lot and walked from there to the neighborhood Chinese restaurant. It was where this mess had really begun and Schuldich thought of Kudou as the hostess led them to a table in the back. They studied their menus in silence for a bit before deciding on completely different things, and their waitress took their order back to the chefs.

      They could smell the blood on them even through the smell of grease and Schuldich knew Crawford would fuss at them later for going out in public like this. He didn't care. If it was going to cause problems for them, Crawford would have been downstairs in that garage waiting to send them up to the shower. The waitress wasn't going to tell, and she sure as hell wasn't going to ask.

      Schuldich fished his phone out of his pocket and flipped it open. It took only a second to find Kudou's name in his phone book. The only other numbers Schuldich had were for Schwarz and an emergency contact at Rosenkreuz if something happened to Crawford. He was supposed to memorize numbers for their clients, which didn't quite explain why he'd chosen to give Kudou his own entry.

      Kudou picked up on the third ring. "What are you wearing?"

      "Blood, brains, and shreds of a windpipe," Schuldich answered.

      "Kinky. Not exactly the phone foreplay I'd imagined, but we can work with that."

      "You can work with your fingers," Schuldich sent back. "I've ditched you in favor of Nagi tonight."

      "Can I watch?"

      "For dinner," Schuldich clarified, earning a look from Nagi.

      "Schuldich, everyone knows there's a world of difference between 'Want to get dinner sometime?' and 'Want to get dinner sometime?'"

      "Those are the same damn thing."

      "Didn't you hear the emphasis? One is obviously a play for sex."

      "Whatever. My food's getting cold, so get off my phone."

      "Your food hasn't gotten there yet," Kudou guessed correctly. "If it was there already, you would have waited until after you were finished to call me. I don't rank above food in your book."

      Schuldich hung up on him and tossed his phone to one side. "Retard."

      Nagi didn't comment. Their food came just a minute later and they dug in, but it took a few minutes before any semblance of a conversation started between them. When it did, it stayed clear of Weiß's eldest and went more towards the quickly approaching winter and the rest of their job. They walked back to the apartment side by side. Crawford and Farfarello were both in the hall when they stepped through the front door, Schuldich laughing at some rather unkind comment Nagi had made and Nagi looking relaxed despite their ranting about their employer. The conversation faltered as they were treated to twin assessing looks, but neither of them asked. Usually it was better to just not know.

      They cycled through the showers instead. When Schuldich was dressed again, he was left wondering how he was supposed to entertain himself when he'd cancelled his night with Kudou. Since it was technically Nagi's fault- by Schuldich logic, anyway- he went to fetch the boy and demand some sort of compensation. Nagi wasn't exactly a bundle of thrills, but he did have an extensive video collection. Crawford was watching the evening news in the living room, so they ended up sprawled on Nagi's bed watching DVDs off his computer.

      It had been months since they'd last been like this, stretched out side by side. The past several weeks had completely changed Schuldich's concept of two warm bodies in a bed and he could feel it. It was distracting now when it had never been before. Nagi's body heat was warm against his arm and side, hotter than the air that drifted out of the heater on the wall. Nagi's attention was supposedly completely on his screen, but now and then Schuldich was distracted more by the sound of Nagi's breathing than he was the pictures on the screen. It weirded him out.

      When the first movie went over, Nagi didn't look at him. "Can we watch another?" he asked instead.

      Schuldich shrugged and felt his arm move against Nagi's. "Whatever."

      Telekinesis pulled another disc from its sleeve and slid it into the tray, and two and a half more hours slid by. Nagi drifted off before it went over and slowly slumped sideways against Schuldich. Schuldich slanted a look at his dark hair and serene expression. A poke of his gift said Nagi wasn't faking; the young man was sliding deeper unconscious. Schuldich sighed and looked back towards the screen. The movie went over at midnight and Schuldich studied the monitor until the screensaver came on.

      He thought about getting up, but in the end, it was too much trouble. There was something familiar about this, even if it was the wrong body. Sleeping pressed up against a sleeping body was something that had had weeks to become comfortable, even if it had taken him time to adjust to it. Schuldich closed his eyes where his head was propped on his arms and drifted off to sleep to the sound of Nagi's steady breaths.


      "What happened with Nagi?"

      "Hm?" Schuldich quirked an eyebrow at Kudou, pausing with his chopsticks halfway to his mouth. Kudou was looking at him head-on, but there was something a little distant in his stare. Schuldich had seen that kind of look before, but not from Weiß. It meant he was asking a question he didn't really want an answer to. The waitress drifted by to refill their glasses and Kudou was quick to flash her a smile. His act was flawless; the distraction seemed natural as he thanked her. She walked away looking a little flustered but pleased.

      "With Nagi," Kudou said as he looked back at Schuldich. "Last night."

      "We ate dinner, went home to watch some movies, argued a bit as foreplay, and then ravaged each other all night. Now he's pregnant with my baby."

      "I think it would be the other way around," Kudou pointed out sensibly. "You haven't even topped me yet. I'm not so sure you could top Nagi the way things are going. Either way, congrats on getting a bun in the oven."

      Schuldich flicked a vegetable at him. "We watched movies and passed out, smartmouth. If you're going to congratulate me about it, at least sound sincere."

      "I am."


      Kudou just grinned at him and went back to his food. He seemed a little more relaxed now that Schuldich had cleared things up. The telepath warred between annoyance and amusement and shrugged it off in favor of his own food.

      "Nagi's birthday is coming up," Kudou volunteered just a few minutes later.


      "I was thinking we should do something for it."

      "You can think?"

      Kudou flicked his vegetable right back. "When I pressured him into telling me when it was, I promised him I'd do something for it. He's never celebrated his birthday before. I think that's kind of sad. Seventeen's a good age, you know?"

      "Sixteen is the one that should be more important for you, since that makes him legal for fucking."

      "We weren't dating at that time."

      "You still reaped the benefits."

      "I still think we should do something for this one," Kudou said. "As his friend," he ignored the look Schuldich sent him for the word, "I'm obligated to recognize it anyway. So if we just do something together, the three of us, you can keep an eye on me and Nagi. Let's go out to dinner or something. All you can drink."

      "He's seventeen."

      "The waitresses aren't going to ask. If he doesn't want to drink, he can just stuff his face on the course meal and watch us drink. He said he's never been to one before. It'll be good. Let's do it. Ah." The waitress was back and Kudou was quick with another dazzling smile. She lingered this time, not quite brave enough to make small talk but asking several questions about the quality of the food. Her glowing eyes were fixed on Kudou's face and Schuldich didn't miss the way she was fidgeting shyly with her notepad. Kudou didn't miss it either, judging by the way his smile widened.

      Schuldich was annoyed.

      She left just a minute later, looking pleased at her bravery in approaching them again. Kudou watched her trot away. Schuldich caught an ice cube from his glass with his chopsticks and pelted Kudou in the face. Kudou looked back at him, looking decidedly unimpressed.

      "Are you talking to me or looking at her ass?"

      Kudou's smile was slow. "Jealous?"

      "Like hell."

      The toe of Kudou's shoes slid down the inside of Schuldich's leg, tracing denim from his knee to his ankle. "Now you know how I feel," Kudou said simply. "You know she means jack to me, but you're getting riled anyway. I know Nagi means the same to you, but I don't like hearing you talk about him."

      Schuldich tossed his chopsticks down. "I'm full," he said, even though his plate was only half-cleared.

      Kudou didn't argue. He just collected their bill and followed Schuldich to the door. Schuldich went out to the sidewalk ahead of him and Kudou was just a few seconds behind him as he got stopped to pay. They went side by side back to the car and Kudou caught at Schuldich then. He buried his hands in Schuldich's pockets and pulled the German up against him.

      "Don't get fussy," Kudou told him. "You know more than anyone else could that I'm not thinking about him when I'm fucking you."

      Schuldich just gazed back at him through hooded blue eyes. "I'm not fussing."

      "Why are you so uptight?"

      "I'm not."

      "Could you at least put some effort into lying?" Kudou asked. He leaned in to kiss Schuldich and Schuldich just tilted his head away. Kudou studied him for a few moments in silence, searching his expression. Schuldich stared back, giving nothing away, and kept his gift safely inside his own head. At last Kudou flexed his fingers. "Whatever, right? Let's go. Let's just go."

      He drew his hands back and waited to see if Schuldich was going to argue, but the telepath just climbed into the car. Kudou got in on his side, and neither of them talked the whole way back to the apartment. Within a few minutes of getting the door closed behind them, they were tangled together on the bed with buttons half-undone.

      For some reason, Schuldich couldn't stop himself from slipping into Kudou's thoughts. Just for a few seconds should be all right, just for a few seconds wasn't a threat to his gift—

      Nagi was nowhere in there. Neither was that waitress. The only thing there was Schuldich, orange hair and blue eyes and the way their skin blurred together as they moved. The way he felt and the way he moved and the way he tasted and the sounds he made when he couldn't stop himself, and oh god was it a rush, hadn't really been a rush like this in a while. Heat and need and wanting and Kudou's underlying hope that Schuldich wasn't honestly mad at him, because he didn't want to lose this, because didn't he already say it, even if he hadn't been sure this time, didn't he already warn Schuldich that he always fell—

      Schuldich felt something start to slip and wrenched his gift out of Kudou's mind so hard it hurt. His gift was going vicious haywire in his head as it tried to figure out where his mind really was. He was gasping for breath, on the brink of hyperventilating, mind and body acting without his control. A voice at his ear was trying to talk him down from it, all reassuring words with an undertone of urgency. Schuldich focused on it and followed it down to calmness, and his gift slowly reasserted itself in his head.

      When he'd gotten his awareness back, he was burrowed him against Kudou's chest, fingers knotted in long orange hair. Kudou's chin was on his head and his arms were tight around Schuldich's back, fingernails digging into his skin through his half-discarded shirt. Rasping breaths filled the air between them and Schuldich swallowed hard when he realized they were his. He took a deep breath and held it, feeling the way his heart was pounding against his ribcage.

      "It's all right," Kudou said again into the sudden silence, and Schuldich slowly exhaled. It sounded shaky, but at last he could control his breathing. "It's all right."

      They stayed like that for another minute, until both of their heart rates were something closer to normal, and then Kudou's fingers slowly relaxed. "Jesus, Schuldich, what did you do?"

      "Crawford's going to kill me for that," Schuldich slurred. "I can already see the look on his face."

      "Schuldich," Kudou pressed.

      "Fucking white noise."

      Kudou's fingers tightened again. "You were listening?" he asked incredulously. "Schuldich, what the hell? You knew that was going to be a mistake. Why did you do it?"

      ~I almost couldn't let go,~ Schuldich thought, feeling drowsy as his bruised mind tried to shut down. ~I didn't want to let go this time. Why?~


      "Have to sleep. Night," Schuldich answered. He drew his hands back from his hair, tried to push at Kudou once to get a little more room and failed, and was drifting off just a few seconds later. When he woke up just an hour later, Kudou hadn't moved, and Schuldich was still trapped neatly in his arms. He pushed at Kudou and found the man wide awake, and it didn't take a lot of arguing to get a ride home. Kudou dropped him off on the sidewalk right in front of Schwarz's apartment.

      Crawford was waiting there right inside the door, face a mask of stone and cold disapproval. Schuldich shifted his gaze away from the precognitive's stare. "I know," he said, hoping it would cut Crawford off at the pass. "I know."

      "Do you?" Crawford asked. "If he hadn't said something you weren't ready to hear, you wouldn't have been able to get out of there. We warned you it was white noise, Schuldich. We warned you it was dangerous. You ignored us and you risked your sanity and your life. Don't you ever do that again."

      Schuldich swallowed against the cold knot of fear that was still lodged in his stomach. Feeling his gift completely shatter like that inside his head was just… Just the memory of it made it hurt to breathe. He just nodded silently and Crawford stepped out of the way. Schuldich slipped past him, careful not to brush against the other man, and retreated to his room. He locked the door behind him and it was hours before he left again.

      'Didn't I already warn him that I always fall—'

Part 15
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